"It's good to see a room with this many people in it," said Claire Ruddy, the AWARE president, looking over a buzzing room at the Whistler Public Library. "It's been a while."
Ruddy spoke at the start of the 2011 Annual General Meeting of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), a meeting that just a couple of weeks ago, it was feared, would be the last for an organization that has served as a prominent voice for the environment since 1989.
That fate was averted June 22, as AWARE drew interest from 13 candidates in 12 board positions when the organization initially hoped for 10. The association has refocused its work on fewer initiatives and it has been infused with new energy to move forward.
"Obviously we all know this was a make or break meeting for the group," Ruddy said. "We wanted to be very clear and transparent about the fact we could not continue with the resources in terms of a board, with the number of people we had on the board, with the time that went into managing a group like AWARE."
The new board includes Andrew Runciman. A Whistler Blackcomb employee who is particularly sensitive to artificial scents, he was acclaimed to the board alongside nine other people.
"I have a personal dislike of artificial scents," he said. "I've been running a blog for three years, my aim is to get ... all those other artificial scents banned.
"This is a small community with some big external influences, someone's got to take the time to stand up for what's right."
Julie Burrows, a Whistler resident for 11 years who works as a wildlife technician in the summer season for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, was also acclaimed to the board. Her primary aim is to ensure that people in Whistler "appreciate what a beautiful place we live in and protect what we can."
Other members of the board include Ruddy and Sara Jennings, who will be returning as president and vice-president, respectively, as well as Tina Symko, formerly VANOC's senior manager of environmental management and sustainability; Melanie Tardif, a tour guide with Ziptrek who studied applied ecology in Montreal; and Mark Steffens, who previously did environmental consulting for BP-owned oil rigs.
Projects that AWARE hopes to focus on moving forward include the elimination of plastic bags in Whistler, an initiative that gained some traction with the municipality at its last council meeting as lawmakers voted to take stock of the community's plastic bag use and report back in six months.
AWARE also hopes to ensure that environmental sustainability remains a key feature of the municipality's Official Community Plan update, and to focus on the Cheakamus Community Forest and maintain monthly offerings like the AWARE Kids Nature Club and Green Drinks.
Jennings, a second-generation member of AWARE after her father helped start the organization in 1989, beamed with excitement that the association will carry on its work in Whistler.
"Yay, we're still surviving!" she exclaimed.